By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Never give up.
When Alex Musialek was growing up in Dax, France, his father, Herve, instilled that lesson in his son’s mind again and again. It didn’t matter what the odds were, what your circumstances were, you had to keep going and you had to believe you could overcome.
It’s a lesson that Musialek has passed on to his Kentucky teammates in motivating them to achieve their goals. He is one of two captains on this year’s squad along with Eric Quigley, and the two are determined to lead their team to new heights.
“That’s the way I was educated from my dad back home,” Musialek said. “I was taught that I would never give up on the court, even if I had lost the first set and was down in the second. That’s what we’re trying to do with the team to help them out. Eric and I are the captains, so we’re trying to help out our teammates on the court tennis-wise and school-wise.”
Kentucky head coach Dennis Emery, who is in his 30th year leading the Wildcats, said that Musialek’s determined attitude and strong leadership have paid dividends on the court. His pupil thrives on pressure and embraces the opportunity to come through in the clutch.
“Alex is the emotional leader of the team and he really likes being on the center stage and for the win to come down to his court,” Emery said. “That confidence really helps the other players to know that there is someone who is really confident and comfortable fighting for them in tough situations. Alex has won a lot of clutch matches for us in the past and the key is that he believes that he is going to win more of those matches in the future.”
Musialek was squarely focused on tennis and with good reason – as a prep, he was rated as one of the top-10 junior players in France, where he was coached by his father with the French Tennis Federation.
But equally important to the elder Musialek was education. His son had been a French Baccalaureat honor student and Herve Musialek was determined that his son would attend college and receive a quality education.
“I always wanted to go pro, but when I was done with high school, my dad gave me two options,” Musialek said. “He told me that I could either come to the U.S. to study and play tennis, or I could say home, but I couldn’t play because the system is really different there.”
Enter Cedric Kauffmann, Kentucky’s associate head coach who hails from Montsoult, France. A three-time All-America performer for the Wildcats from 1996-98, Kauffmann had played five years on the ATP Tour and had appeared in the French Open.
“I really decided on Kentucky because Cedric Kauffmann recruited me,” Musialek said. “He came all the way to France to meet me and that was a really big step.”
Even though Musialek felt at home in the Bluegrass and having a fellow countryman as one of his coaches eased the transition, the fact remained that Lexington, Ky., was a long way from home.
He missed his home and he struggled with the language.
“My transition was a little tough,” admitted Musialek. “I didn’t have anybody on the team to talk to. Cedric did a great job and was really here for me my freshman year when I was sad or homesick. The English part was pretty tough because when I got here, I could barely speak English. He tried to help me as much as he could with English and also teaching me about how things work over here with culture.”
The first year may have been tough, but Musialek has continued to grow as both a person and a tennis player during his time with the Wildcats. Emery has noticed the transformation and has noted that his pupil has become an extraordinary leader.
“When Alex came in here a few years back, he wasn’t nearly as mature on the court as he is now,” Emery said. “One of the great things about college tennis is that it really puts you in a lot of adverse conditions and he has really had to learn how to handle himself in those situations. I knew he would be a good captain for us because of how well he and Eric Quigley get along and complement each other.”
Not only is he just a leader on the team, he is also a role model to Tom Jomby and Anthony Rossi, two fellow Frenchmen who have since joined the team. He knew clearly what the transition was like and has tried to be as helpful as possible to the duo.
“When Tom came here and then Anthony, I tried to help them as well with how things work over here,” Musialek said. “It has been a great thing for me to have them over here because it’s obviously tough when you come over here and you’re speaking French.”
Musialek remembers how lonely he felt when he first arrived in Lexington and he wants to do all he can to prevent his French teammates from feeling that way. Still, he says, the team has gotten much closer and he feels like any of his teammates are willing to do whatever it takes to assist their fellow squad members.
“I feel like I can go to anyone on the team now,” Musialek said. “Everyone is really here for me to try to help me out.”
Right from the get-go, Musialek was put into Kentucky’s No. 2 singles position and he has thrived in that slot since his arrival. His ‘never give up’ attitude can be backed up by his statistics.
Musialek has won 95 singles matches over the course of his career and ranks 14th on the school’s all-time career singles wins list. He is looking to become one of just 14 players in the program’s history to win 100 career matches.
“Alex has really developed into a fantastic player,” Emery said. “He has played No. 2 singles the past three seasons and the first year he played there, he was our clear No. 2. Last year, he played so well that he really was more of our No. 1B. On the court, he is a very aggressive baseline player and is someone who can really hurt you from the back.”
Quigley, Musialek’s co-captain, earlier this year became the school’s all-time winningest singles player, breaking a record that was more than 27 years old. For his career, Quigley has won 149 matches and looks to become the first in school history to eclipse the 150-win plateau.
And while the two have achieved a great deal of individual success, they are both more focused on achieving lofty team goals.
“The team goals we set up are to win every match, but especially at the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year,” Musialek said. “’We would like to win, but to win every match at this level in college would be unbelievable. Our goals for our team are to win the conference and the national championship.”
To this point, the Wildcats have won every match that they have played.
Kentucky is currently ranked No. 6 in the nation and, heading into a difficult showdown at No. 30 Notre Dame on Sunday, the Wildcats have won every match that they have played. They are 8-0 on the season, including six wins against ranked opponents. The most notable victories have come against No. 12 Pepperdine and No. 22 Tulsa.
Kentucky is off to its best start in Emery’s 30 years as head coach.
“I think we set the goals at the beginning of the year because we all decided that we wanted to do better than we did last year, so we put in the hard work this year,” Musialek said. “Every time we practice, everyone is pushing each other, so we had a great fall because of that. This year was one of the best falls that UK tennis has had in its history. We knew that if we had a good fall, maybe in the spring we would have a good chance to go far in the season. So far we are 8-0 and that’s a great start.”
Musialek says his team’s incredible chemistry has been a major factor in its success this season. He cited a team trip to Honolulu, Hawaii, for the Rainbow Warrior Challenge in January as an important factor in team-building.
“The atmosphere on the team is just unbelievable,” Musialek said. “The coaches keep reminding us that we are a family, but I think we really are. We spend so much time together and we all live in the same apartment complex. Everything we do, we do together. I have friends outside the team, but the guys I am closest to are on my team. Spending time together is a big thing for us. I think the fact that we went to Hawaii and got out of Lexington together in a different atmosphere was big.”
For Musialek and the Wildcats, achieving their goals will mean nothing more than continuing what they have been doing all year.
“We have to keep pushing in the same direction for the same goals the rest of the season,” Musialek said. “Everyone on the team is committed to what we’re wanting to do. Our goal is to win the national championship and we just have to be really focused and work hard towards that goal.”